By some counts the Open Generation, or Millennials as they are often referred to, are the largest demographic segment in the world. In the eyes of more than a few marketers, they are also the most important.
That’s especially true in Asia-Pacific, where 40 per cent of the adult population is 18-34, but it’s not just because of the size of the cohort. As media agency ZenithOptimedia points out, 80 per cent of life-defining moments happen before the age of 35, and it’s the time when brand preferences turn into buying habits.
“We refer to the Millennials, or those born after 1980, as the ‘Open Generation’ because it has witnessed unprecedentend opportunities from social, economic and cultural fronts,” explains Howard Wincott, research director at ZenithOptimedia. “They are also born in a world where there is an explosion of access to and freedom of information and communication.”
Wincott notes that the cohort is a topic of continued interest to brands. “In meetings [with brand clients] this generation frequently comes up, either in context of how similar or dissimilar they are across the world. It's a pretty critical question for many brands to try to understand and get into.”
Which is why ZenithOptimedia commissioned a large and comprehensive report that drills down locally on a global work that asked the question: “What makes the Open Generation happy?” The study is based on 6,021 interviews with young adults aged 18-34 years old from 11 countries, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.
While it’s not a new step to try to “understand happiness”, says Wincott, it’s more to do with "how this new generation is looking at happiness”.
The headline findings break down into 15 categories that measure happiness and well-being. Of these two rank well ahead of the rest—health and well-being (87 per cent) and financial stability (79 per cent). Behind these are career (65 per cent), formal education (51 per cent), following dreams (47 per cent), having a family (46 per cent), being in a relationship (41 per cent) and owning a property (38 per cent).
Freedom and control
Using the result, ZO has built what it calls a "happiness framework", concluding that that for the Open Generation, happiness is a balance between freedom and control.
Freedom broadly means the space to accumulate experiences that shape identity—such as friendship, romance and career—while control means the ability to be in charge of core issues such as finances, work, social and family life. It is only through being able to manage and balance both of these that the Open Generation can take advantage of freedoms and opportunities.
The irony is that when it comes to freedom the Open Generation also need to exercise control. Their parents and grandparents may have had to push back against limits imposed on their freedoms, but today’s younger generations enjoy “so much freedom that they need to introduce their own controls that make use of skills such as adaptability and self-reliance", Wincott says. "To be happy today, this generation need to judge for themselves what is truly important and worthwhile.”
While financial stability is of massive importance to the whole group, there’s a disparity between financial independence, freedom and comfort levels.“You have lower levels of comfort in groups at the younger end of the age spectrum. This is an opportunity that brands could seize,” he points out.
The challenging economic environment and difficulty such as finding jobs or being able to buy a home are central issues for Asia's Open Generation.
No surprise then that the survey finds they are frugal; 74 per cent say they are able to save. That said, they won’t sacrifice quality for price and will pay for brands. They are also optimistic—on average 79 per cent believe their financial status will improve in the next few years.
Tapping into this optimism is a gateway for brands looking to connect with these young adults. Happiness for the Open Generation, concludes the ZO study, means making the most of their lives and having meaningful experiences.
The Open Generation gather experiences “in the way that earlier generations amassed prized possessions".
"Brands can help them do that, be it through helping them express what they stand for or by providing those experiences,” says Wincott.
Some brands in Asia have started to try and tap into this insight. Insurer Manulife, for example, is currently offering incentives to customers who exercise. Those who take up certain medical plans are given a fitness tracker and by meeting targets can earn discounts on their annual premium.
Manulife describes the programme as aimed as “an increasingly digital-savvy customer base”. DBS in Singapore uses exactly the same language in describing the thinking behind its mobile wallet app that allows customers to send and receive funds without having to log into their bank accounts.
The lesson for brands: “Don’t just be useful, be meaningful.”